There’s a fantastic moment in the movie The Truman Show where young Truman tells his teacher that he wants to be an explorer like the great Magellan. His teacher pulls down a map and says cheerfully, “Oh, you’re too late! There’s nothing left to explore!”
It can sometimes feel this way when writing too. There are hundreds of thousands of books out there. Every genre feels well-worn. We have the voices of hundreds of writers swimming around our heads.
How can we stand out from the pack? How are we going to get someone to read our book instead of all the others ones? What’s going to make ours different and better?
Writers are often their own worst enemies in this regard. The type of person who will eventually write a successful novel is adept at spotting their own flaws, and mistakes are plentiful at the beginning of the novel-writing process.
What often stops would-be writers in their tracks is that their first efforts aren’t very good. And they know it. The voice sounds like another author’s voice, the plot feels like an imitation of a book they’ve already read, and it doesn’t start out feeling particularly original.
As with every writing problem, there is only one remedy: Keep writing. Keep pushing on. It feels like there’s nothing new out there, but as Truman himself finds out at the end of The Truman Show, that’s not remotely true.
You can write your way to originality, you can write your way to a voice, and you can write your way to a unique plot. It may not start out that way, but if you keep pushing through and keep trying you’ll end up in a place you never knew existed.
Don’t give up. There are still plenty of worlds to be discovered.
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For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Kunst- und Raritätenkabinett by Hans Jordaens III